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Use science to reduce your bias

Posted by : Lisa Clark

A primary methodology in this field that attempts to understand both why and how people make decisions is known as qualitative research. This technique is key to beginning research, because it helps understand the psychology behind your potential customer’s decision to buy or not buy your product without your own thoughts interjected.

In the beginning stages of your start-up, when you’re the only one in charge, everything comes down to context. It’s just you and your idea pacing through the battery of questions and initial feedback that you will rely on to guide your redevelopment and growth. The best way to nurture your idea in its nascency is to collect the highest quality information you can, and to use this information in the most value-added ways.

Easier said than done.

You need to master seeing the world from your potential customer’s perspective while trying to divorce your own perspective. If you want to have a real, objective understanding of your idea’s potential, it’s imperative that you quell any unknown and potentially lethal personal biases in the collected information.

To achieve the desired level of objectivity in our own endeavors, we turn to the natural sciences. A primary methodology in this field that attempts to understand both why and how people make decisions is known as qualitative research. This technique is key to beginning research, because it helps understand the psychology behind your potential customer’s decision to buy or not buy your product without your own thoughts interjected.

At the beginning of any idea, we have found the following two forms of qualitative research to be especially useful: naturalistic observation and survey research.

Naturalistic Observation – This technique is one of the most cost effective and bias reducing survey methods. You go to a location where you think your customers would likely purchase your product, observe from a non-creepy distance, and take notes. Consider yourself the Jane Goodall for your idea. Another option is to join internet groups where you can read about your potential customers. Note taking is important during this process: be as detailed as possible, try to spot trends, and make observations over various days and times.

If you are comfortable speaking with strangers, you may even consider interacting with the people you are observing. Be warned though: this can increase the chances of your personal biases being inserted, so you want your questions aimed towards them and how they currently solve the problem where your idea may apply.

Survey Research – Survey research can either be in-person or through a questionnaire and carries a much higher risk of bias than naturalistic observations. Here, the bias can stem from the way you write and present your questions. To try to allay these effects, your goal in this research should be to understand if your idea is really a pain point for potential customers. Don’t ask directly about your solution, but rather try to learn what they currently do instead.

For example, a leading question might be:

Would you be interested in a product like x?

Whereas, a less biased question might ask:

How do you approach problem x?

Questions such as these help you understand what your customers value in a potential product so you can mold your idea around their preferences, rather than guess what the market is interested in. On the other hand, if there is no pain point to be found, it could indicate that you may be targeting the wrong group.

As you begin to really understand your customers, you can start asking questions about your offering. This can be the most treacherous portion of your market research. By nature, humans generally choose non-adversarial comments in their interactions with others. When you present your idea, you risk the other person giving you a response that will spare your feelings. Knowing this tendency, you must be more reliant on your ability to scan body language and the resulting information will be less trustworthy as you further develop your idea. Do you have a recommendation for overcoming this problem?

Keeping an idea safe from bias is an essential technique to master for any start-up. By using proven scientific methodologies, you can more readily overcome this initial hurdle and avoid the pitfalls that have plagued many other founders on their journey towards viability.

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